The Mark of Belonging

dog tagsRemember, God is the One who makes you and us strong in Christ.  God made us His chosen people. He put His mark on us to show that we are His, and He put his Spirit in our hearts to be a guarantee for all He has promised.   2 Corinthians 1:21-22(NCV)

After Ozzy’s monthly bath, I say the same thing to him, once his fur has the chance to dry a bit I call him to me and say, “Let’s put your collar on, so you look like you belong to someone.” He comes running and sits in front of me, and as I snap on his collar I say, “There, now you belong to someone!” The tags on Ozzy’s collar not only tell the world he doesn’t have rabies, but it tells the world he’s not a wild dog. He has a family.

I don’t let just any dog into my house. I buy food for only one pooch. There is only one dog that gets to sleep on the bed. I like all kinds of dogs and Ozzy had many canine friends in our neighborhood, but Ozzy has special privileges compared to the others; because he belongs to me.

If you are a child of God, you belong to Him—not in a slave/master type of relationship, but in a Father/child relationship. God is a loving father who wants to pour lavish blessings on you, simply because you are His child.

Ozzy and I don’t have a formal agreement, but somehow Ozzy seems to know he’s getting food, toys, water, a place to stay and some health care should the need arise. He also knows He can come sit on my lap just about any time he wants, if not on my lap at least within arm’s reach.

Do you know what God has promised you as His child? His; joy, mercy, grace, strength to meet the task He’s planned for you, wisdom, eternal life with Him, whatever you need, hope, and when all else seems to be failing, peace.

That’s the short list. This verse says His spirit, dwelling in us, is the deposit, a guarantee, that His promises are true.

Father, I come to You today grateful to be Your child. Thank you for your strength and for choosing me before I knew You. Let me live and act in that love today. That love is the mark Your spirit places in my heart. It’s the love that constrains me to live a life pleasing to You and that causes me to act toward others the way You acted toward me. Thank you for Your eternal promises.

God’s Indoor Voice

whisper“Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. 1 Kings 19:11-13 (NLT)

 

I made my entrance into the operating room. I needed to talk with the circulating nurse about her next assignment. It was information that didn’t matter to the other people in the room so I spoke hushed words through my mask, intended only for her ears.

All the usual BEEPs and WHOOSHs which mark the passage of time in the operating room announced, “All is well” with the patient. The surgeon and technicians chatted about the kids, the vacation, and the concert as skilled eyes and trained hands repaired the broken patient.  Without making a sound, I had everyone’s attention.  The chatter stopped as everyone strained to hear what I was saying.

Sometimes, a quiet whisper is louder than a shout.

Elijah bested Jezebel’s priests making a public mockery of them and by extension, her. With injured pride, Jezebel condemned Elijah to death. Elijah fled and in his exhaustion had a woe is me pity-party followed by a nap. God awakened Elijah and gave the command in today’s passage.

Wind, that dislodged rocks, blew across the mountain as Elijah waited—an earthquake and fire rounded out the Old Testament display. After all the powerful, awe-inspiring, earth-shattering displays—God spoke.  God spoke to Elijah in a gentle whisper.

Whispers can be attention-getting.

Have you prayed, worried, struggled, felt alone, prayed some more, worried some more and then lapsed into despair waiting for God to move the earth—waiting for the loud, deep voice of God to shout out a command? Are your spiritual ears waiting to hear the booming voice of God—only to find that God is using His indoor voice to try to get your attention?

The same God that tells His children to bring their praise and requests to Him is the same God that says, “Be still and know that I am God.” and “those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength.”

If your answer to prayer hasn’t come, if you feel like you might as well lie down and die, if you feel alone—pause for a minute and be still—wait on the Lord.

Perhaps His answer for you will come in a gentle whisper.

Father, remind me that while bringing my praise and requests to You is important, so is listening. You value stillness–help me to value it, too.  Today, as other distractions vie for my attention, help me to be still and listen for Your gentle whisper.

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Free Lunch

free“Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink—even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk—it’s all free!  Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food.

“Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life…

…Seek the Lord while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near.  Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.  Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously. Isaiah 55:1-3a, 6-7

“I can’t go out for lunch, I’m broke.” was my sad reply to my friend’s fun sounding request.   I was in college and money was tight—she was a D.I.N.K. (Double Income—No Kids) money was never a concern for her. Her response was, “I didn’t ask if you had any money, I asked if you wanted to go out for lunch.” She knew my financial situation. She wanted to treat me, to enjoy my company—she made the generous offer knowing the cost of her invitation.

God’s offering you “lunch”

Are you hungry? When you read the passage above, does the gnawing emptiness in your soul begin to make sense? Are you worried that filling that void will cost too much?

God’s call to those who are hungry is “Come.” You don’t need any money—you can’t afford what God has to offer, anyway. When you come to God, you can quit trying to fill the emptiness with cheap food that doesn’t satisfy. You can stop trying to quench your thirst with drinks that leave you thirstier then when you began drinking.

God wants to buy your lunch—spiritually speaking.

God knows you can’t fill your own emptiness. If you’re tired of trying, His call is come and I’ll satisfy you. God knew the cost buying your lunch—it cost Him His Son—but He was willing to pay the price.

What will you get when you come to God? If you read on in Isaiah 55 you’ll find that God’s lunch probably won’t be what you expect—but it is great and filling. God may take you to a lunch you didn’t anticipate—maybe one you didn’t desire—that’s His prerogative. One thing is sure; if you accept His offer, you’ll find refreshment, joy and restoration.

Father, Thank You for the offer. Help me trust Your choices for me as the One who knows what’s best, who loves me beyond what I can describe, and Who is always working for my good. Teach me the value of Your good food. Help me abandon my attempts to meet my own needs with things that will never satisfy. Thank You for “lunch”!

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Stay Hungry, My Friend

hungryYou’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat. (MSG)

They are blessed who hunger and thirst after justice, for they will be satisfied. (NCV)

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. (NIV)

Matthew 5:6

I’ve been on self-imposed diets—eating very small amounts of food. In preparation for medical tests, I’ve been NPO (Nothing By Mouth) for 24 hours. I’ve missed breakfast, been late to lunch, and worked through supper—but I’ve never been starving.

“Starving” is a word we tend to throw around in America.   Although I’ve never been starving, I’ve been hungry. Hunger and thirst are common experiences—regardless of who you are. The growl of an empty stomach, the dry mouth and fuzzy thoughts are attention getters—it’s your body’s way of letting you know you need something—something you don’t have internally.

Is there a hunger in your life? Not a hunger for food but a gnawing for something—maybe you can’t verbalize it—but it’s there. Do you long for fulfillment, peace, purpose, or joy? Are you hungry?

If you don’t have a personal relationship with God, that emptiness you feel is the void God can fill. God made you to have a relationship with Him—yes—YOU and the God of the universe are supposed to be in relationship. It’s easy. It’s comfortable. Don’t assume you know the story. Don’t be fooled by those who try to misrepresent the truth. You were made for and by a loving God.   If you are living a hungry life, He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

If you do call God your Father—His call is, “Stay hungry—stay thirsty.” Our bodies have a never-ending need for physical food and drink. Our spirits are the same. Jesus pronounces a blessing on those who stay hungry and thirsty for God’s righteousness. There is a blessing for those who are never satisfied—God will continually fill those who stay hungry for Him.

As a child, I would whine to my mom, “I’m hungry.” She would offer me a couple of different snacks. I would decline them since they weren’t what I wanted. Then, she would ask what I did want and when I couldn’t tell her, her reply was, “Then you’re not very hungry—go play.” Honestly, I probably was just bored.

Can you relate to that feeling? Is there something missing? Are you looking for that last piece of the puzzle? Are you hungry? Maybe God is trying to get your attention. Ask Him to feed you. Ask Him for a drink. You’ll find He can fill your need.

Father, lead me to You when I need that “something” I can’t find anywhere else. Fill me because I can’t fill myself. Teach me to run to you when I’m hungry and thirsty. Fill me.

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God’s Spotlight

shhh “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

Matthew 5:14-16 (NLT)

Without exception, in every work setting I’ve ever been involved in, I’ve had co-workers who walk-the-walk and I’ve had co-workers who talk-the-talk. I bet you have, too.

If you aren’t sure what I mean, let me put it this way– I’ve worked for bosses and managers who could tell me what to do and in some cases how to do it, but never participate in the work. Those bosses stood on the sideline and analyzed my performance without helping—without any sweat-equity—then played the role of an assessor. Regardless of how hard I tried to keep it at bay, those situations often bred resentment— even contempt.

I’ve also been blessed by those who led by example. Those “bosses” were the ones who assigned tasks by saying, “Let’s go get this done.” and were elbow-to-elbow with me as we worked.

Right in the middle of The Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells the believer to be seen and not necessarily heard.  Jesus says, without equivocation, “You ARE the light of the world.” then concludes that thought with “…let your good deeds shine out for all to see…” so that God gets the praise.

Light is something seen, not heard.

That thought makes my heart ache. I can tell anyone about how wonderful God is, how much I love Jesus, and how grateful I am for the grace God lavishes on me. I’m afraid my “good deeds” don’t always get that message across. Sometimes my light hides in the basket of my desires and my stubborn will.

It makes me question my heart and actions. Am I a “boss” of the gospel—simply telling others how to live—or am I a “leader” showing the way by example?

Jesus talks about a new way to relate to God’s law. The believer’s call is not to complete a checklist of good deeds by following external laws. Jesus calls for a change of heart that leads to a change of action which makes the believer distinctly different—a light on a hill. Jesus is saying it’s not enough to talk-the-talk. No one wants to hear believers talk unless a different walk accompanies that talk.

My good deeds are God’s spotlight.

This passage makes me ask myself the following questions.

  • Do I live my life as if it is only my own?
  • Do circumstances consume and affect my agenda and me?
  • Does my “city on a hill” suffer power outages?
  • Is God left standing on the dark stage of my life?

My honest, sad answer to every one of those questions is—Sometimes, YES.

Father, help me gain a new vision! Burn in my heart the understanding that my life is so much more than a series of events that I need to manage. Teach me Your perspective. I want You to be in the spotlight—I want my life to bring You glory!

 

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You are Essential

light“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.  No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. Matthew 5:14-16 (NLT)

 

If salt is common—light is even more common. Light saturates our world. If you live in a country where electricity is not the norm, you still have light.  Light is essential to life.

In the beginning, God created the heaven and earth and then, in the darkness, spoke light into existence.

Light is essential to humanity’s survival. Light is essential for plant life. Animals can’t live without plants. Light warms the planet. Light, and its heat, drive the weather patterns, which produces the rain that nurtures the crops that feed humans and livestock. Without light, nothing survives.

YOU are the light of the world.

As a believer, do you consider yourself essential to the survival of those in darkness?

That is overwhelming.  YOU are essential.

Father, help me be Your light today. Remind me that the Truth I hold is not simply a good idea—but ESSENTIAL for the life of everyone around me. Help me shine today.

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Be Salty

salt“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.  No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. Matthew 5:13-16 (NLT)

I like salt. It’s difficult to decide if I prefer sweet treats or salty treats—I like both. The recent trend of adding salt to sweet treats makes me giddy. The first time I saw sea salt on a chocolate covered caramel I was skeptical. It took one bite to change my mind.

The little bits of salt made the flavors of the chocolate and caramel come alive. There were subtle tastes—vanilla, cocoa, and the caramelized sugar– all enhanced by that little sprinkle of salt that sat on top of the candy. That chocolate covered caramel—good on its own—was made very good by the salt.

Salt was important in history. It’s important today, too, but since it’s so common our society takes it for granted. If you work for a salary you should know you participate in a long, glorious history. Ancients were paid “salt money”—in Latin—salarium.It was the money that allowed the worker to buy salt—that’s how important the common compound we take for granted was in history.

Jesus tells His listeners, “You ARE the salt of the earth…” Then Jesus goes on to say something that always confused my scientific mind as He talks about salt losing its flavor. Chemically speaking, sodium chloride, salt, is very stable. It doesn’t react with other chemicals without some major intervention. The salt you have in your cupboard, might get hard and clump together, but it won’t chemically change over time. It will always taste like salt. In ancient times, salt was used to make fire burn hotter, after that the salt was “unusable” and thrown in the roadways—still sodium chloride—if you tasted it would still taste salty and probably smokey.

There is only one way I can think of that salt isn’t salty—if it’s not used.   Salt that remains in the shaker doesn’t make anything taste better. For salt to accomplish its purpose, it has to be mixed in the food. For salt to preserve food from spoiling, it has to have contact with the food.

You ARE the salt of the earth.

The believer is called to be in contact with the world. The role of the believer’s life is to enhance the flavor of God in the world—to bring out the subtle qualities of God’s character that might be missed by the world—goodness, kindness, love, gentleness, meekness. YOU—the believer—is how God draws attention to Himself. YOU are God’s attention-getting device in a world that is bland and many times distasteful without Him.

YOU ARE the salt of the earth. Enhance Your heavenly Father’s presence today in a world that might miss the flavor of a God who wants to be known. Just a sprinkle will make all the difference.

Be salty.

Father, remind me that a “sprinkle” of You is all that is needed. My small acts of goodness draw attention to Your goodness. My deeds of kindness, although small can bring glory to Your kindness. Help me understand that the world around me doesn’t need a “pound” of goodness—but many small sprinkles from those who claim to be Yours. Help me be salty today.

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Give God a Nudge

ozzy on the footstoolSay a quiet yes to God and He’ll be there in no time… (MSG)

Come close to God and He will come close to you… (NLV)

Come near to God, and God will come near to you… (NCV)

James 4:8a

 Psalm 37              Psalm 71             Psalm 73

As I sit at the desk, Ozzy sits on a footstool next to my chair. Most of the time he’s content to simply be that close. Other times, he demands my attention. Instead of lying next to me, he’ll sit on the footstool and stare at me. I can see him in my peripheral vision. Focused on my work, I keep typing. If he can’t “will me” to tend to him with his hypnotizing dog stare, he’ll nudge my arm. Ozzy has a mighty snout. He’ll nudge me and paw at my arm, until, finally I glance over to see his little black eyes fixed on me.

It melts my heart and I have to scratch his ears and tell him how wonderful he is. I do love my little dog. I can’t deny his plea for affection.

As this scenario played out yesterday, and my mind went to James 4:8 and the chapters in Psalms in which the psalmist cries out for God’s presence and attention.

James gives the command to move toward God and God will move toward you. Adam and Eve did it. You probably have, too. On those days when things don’t go right, when you catch yourself doing that thing you told yourself you wouldn’t do again, the tendency is to run from God and hide.   The opposite is true. Run to God; there you will find forgiveness. There you will find a fresh start.

Maybe you feel surrounded, attacked or vulnerable. Move toward God. God is a fortress to the oppressed, a shield to the attacked, and strength to the weak. God’s actions toward you pour from His perfect love for you. It’s not a love you earn or deserve by your actions. It’s love from your heavenly Father who wants to lavish His blessing on you; His child.

The message is simple. If you need God’s attention, nudge Him. Whisper His name and He’ll coming running to answer.

Father, When I feel unworthy, remind me to come to You for forgiveness. When I feel threatened, remind me to come to You for safety. When I feel small, remind me to come to You for strength. Remind me to come to You, ALWAYS. Thank You for Your love and grace.

My Best-Laid Plans

planningNext Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time.  Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there.  So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas. Acts 16:6-8 (NLT)

I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters that I planned many times to visit you, but I was prevented until now. I want to work among you and see spiritual fruit, just as I have seen among other Gentiles. Romans 1:13 (NLT)

Yesterday I saw an inspirational quote on Facebook. Since I post on many pages, I get all sorts of posts from those pages—some are good—others…well… Yesterday afternoon I caught a glimpse of a quote from a twitter feed (www.twitter.com/pos_outlooks);

“Sometimes when things are falling apart, they may be falling into place.”

This is not a Bible verse, but the concept shows up in scripture—both Old and New Testaments. I immediately thought about Joseph—the dreamer who knew he’d be great but had to live through being a slave and prisoner first, the apostle Paul had plans to visit different churches but had his plans changed and the disciples who had a plan for Jesus that didn’t include crucifixion.

Proverbs 16:9 says it this way; We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps. (NLT)

I like making plans. I like it when things work out the way I think they should. I go so far as to make Plan B and sometimes Plan C—if I think the outcome is important. When I was younger, I spent a great deal of time annoyed and frustrated trying to make my plans work. God gifted me with the ability to organize and plan. I’ll admit, I’ve grabbed that gift, shoved God out-of-the-way, made a plan and then became irritated with God when things didn’t work out as I thought they should.

Are you a planner?

Have you made all sorts of plans for you and those around you only to have something very different occur? We all make plans involving relationships, careers, educational paths. Have you experienced the frustration of having every step of your well-laid plan blocked or contorted? Has your well-laid plan not worked no matter how you tried to force it into being?

Maybe God is trying to get your attention.

When your plan falls apart, have you ever considered that God has a better plan that He is trying to accomplish in your life? If you are a planner that is difficult. When all the plans that should work don’t—consider a prayerful pause. Take a moment to ask God if He has a better plan in the works. Calm you mind and your busy hands and let God put the pieces together.

God has a plan for your life you can’t even imagine. He has the ability to work out the confounding circumstances of your life in ways you would never consider. God can turn any situation around to bring glory to Him and He does it in the most unusual ways.

Father, teach me to hold loosely the plans I make for my life and for those around me. When my plans don’t work out the way I think they should—let that draw my attention fully to You—help me rest in Your love for me.

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Getting God’s Attention

passwordOn your feet now—applaud God! Bring a gift of laughter, sing yourselves into his presence.   Know this: God is God, and God, God. He made us; we didn’t make Him. We’re His people, His well-tended sheep. Enter with the password: “Thank you!” Make yourselves at home, talking praise. Thank Him. Worship Him.  For God is sheer beauty, all-generous in love, loyal always and ever. Psalm 100 (MSG)

Saturday, ended with Jonah in the whale’s belly, consumed by the consequences of his rebellion. Jonah cried out to God and God heard him. As we spend the month looking at how God gets our attention, let’s pause for a moment and see how we get God’s attention.

To begin this week, let me ask, do you know how to get God’s attention? I ask God for many favors. He’s kind and compassionate, generous and merciful. Certainly, God is close to the downcast and to those who need His mercy. His ear is ready to hear the cries of those who find themselves swallowed up by the consequences of their own disobedience.

Hopefully, you don’t live a swallowed-up life every day. One of the most disappointing things about adulthood is the tedium and boredom. As a youngster, life is an adventure. Some adults live an adventurous life—most of us live a predictable life. It’s easy to live on cruise control forgetting that every breath comes from God.

It’s amazing to me that we can have God’s attention anytime, anywhere. The Creator of the universe is ready to listen to me anytime I call—WOW! David offered the instructions for getting God’s attention in Psalm 100. I like how The Message paraphrases a familiar passage of scripture.

Do you feel far from God? Has it been awhile since you spoke with Him? Has it been so long, you just aren’t sure how to start? Try praise. It’s the password into God’s presence. He’s waiting there for you. Once you’re there you’ll find yourself at home. After praise becomes a regular language, you’ll notice it’s comfortable, like your favorite chair or your robe and slippers.

I’ll be honest. Some days it rolls off the tongue. Some days praise is an easy shout! Other days it’s a difficult whisper. The circumstances of the day don’t change an eternal God. The pesky co-worker doesn’t change His love. The whiney child doesn’t change His glory. The ho-hum of daily life doesn’t diminish His majesty.

Praise is an easy companion. Praise can tag along with the co-workers, the kids, the brief case or the dust rag. The best part of all is, where praise is, God is there, too.

Father, forgive the times when I choose to grumble rather than praise. I want to feel at home in Your presence. Help me practice praise. I want to know You more. Open my eyes to Your glory. Help me be on the lookout for Your work

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